The Secret Sauce, Ep. 26: How Web Projects Succeed

What components make up a web project? What makes a project successful, and even more importantly, how do you measure that success?

In this week’s episode of The Secret Sauce, Director of Professional Services Ken Rickard gives an overview of his upcoming webinar that outlines the components that go into successful web projects.

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Allison Manley [AM]: Hi again everyone, and welcome to The Secret Sauce, a short podcast by, that offers a quick bit of advice to help your business run a little bit better.

I’m Allison Manley, an Account Manager here, and today’s advice comes from our Director of Professional Services, Ken Rickard. He has some thoughts on why web projects succeed: how to do proper planning and how to consider all the components of a project.

A heads-up that he talks about a webinar he’s hosting on this very topic on Wednesday July 27th, but in reality we moved it to Thursday July 28th (the next day)! So be sure to join our mailing list on our website at, or email me at to get the information and get the link forwarded your way.

All right! On to Ken . . .

Ken Rickard [KR]: Hi I’m Ken Rickard, I’m the Director of Professional Services at, and on the 27th of July [NOTE: moved to the 28th of July] I’ll be doing a webinar called “How Web Projects Succeed” in which we’ll take a look at how you plan, and then later execute, a project from end-to-end. And we’ll be looking at specifically all the different components that you need to be thinking about in terms of strategy and budget while you’re planning to do your next project.

So what we like to do is walk through all the necessary steps that are required in order to really get a firm grasp on the goals of the project: how you’re going to measure your success towards those goals, how you’re going to articulate those goals to your internal stakeholders, we’ll talk about how you develop personas and other understandings of your audience, how you use those to inform your design, and use those again to do some testing around those designs to make sure you have good information architecture. We’ll talk about content, in particular we’ll talk about content audits and content strategy, so that you understand how your message gets across in terms of your CMS architecture, but also workflow and all the other little bits and pieces that go into making a successful editorial experience.

So what I think you’ll find for people who don’t do . . . who aren’t in a web firm like ours who do dozens of projects in a year . . . you’ll find there are lots of little nuances and details that if you’re not planning for them, they will catch you by surprise. And if you’re not prepared for those surprised, you’re going to have a difficult time adjusting as the project moves on.

It’s a fairly informal talk, but we do drill into, “here are the things we know are going to happen, here’s what we advise are best practices, and here’s how you ought to be budgeting for things.” A good example would be if you’re not budgeting for quality assurance testing, what are you going to be missing out on? If you’re not budgeting for long-term support . . . it’s fascinating the number of people we run into who have a budget for getting a new site designed, but then have no budget for Year 2 or Year 3, thinking, “well once we do this, it will be done.” And that’s just not the way the web works! We’ve all been doing this for a very long time, and understand that the web is a dynamic medium, and the thing you just finished isn’t complete. There are just waypoints along the road of sort of ongoing marketing and development and things like that. So you are always in a position to want to make changes. You’re always in a position to want to publish new things. And in order to do that, you need a long-term maintenance strategy.

It’s interesting . . . I was talking to a client recently, and we had a very long conversation about how we could help them on their project. And it was interesting to me because I think they were looking for a technical answer. They were expecting me to give them a technical answer. And I said, “the three biggest things we can figure out for you right now are: what’s your editorial workflow? Because you’ve got 300 people stretched across 10 different departments who right now pass around Word documents in email. Then they go into the CMS and they go online. That’s Number 1.

Then Number 2 is what’s your governance plan going to be? And your governance plan is something that, again, people often overlook. And that’s about who can make what edits to content on the web, who has to approve it before it goes live, when does it expire, things like that. And your governance plan, along with your workflow, really dictates a lot of the architecture to how the CMS has to be built. In some cases it dictates which CMS you need to use, as some do things in one way and some in another.

And the third thing we talked about . . . again, I think they were expecting me to say, “here’s some technical expertise” . . . and the third question was: what’s your maintenance capacity? Because again, this was going to be a very large project for a number of different departments stretched across a number of different agencies. And they have a staff of six people! So we could architect the greatest solution in the world, but if they can’t maintain it, then it’s not going to be a successful project.

So we use those kinds of metrics when we’re talking about success. What does it actually mean two years on? Three years on? After the initial project is done? How are you going to support it, how are you going to interact with it? How are you going to make changes as you go? Those things are critically important. We’ve done very successful projects where the budget constraints meant we couldn’t do the architecture that was recommended, so we had to go with alternative methods in order to keep the budget under control. We’ve done projects where we’d like to do a certain architecture, but they only have a staff of two, and the staff of two can only maintain certain things.

So if you understand going in all the different things that have to happen on a project, which is again what we’re going to be covering, these kinds of questions become much clearer, and much easier to answer. And that’s something I think we really enjoy as a company . . . I’m not the only one . . . everyone at Palantir really likes digging in and doing that kind of collaborative problem solving. That is easier to do when everyone knows, ok, these are the puzzle pieces, these are what we are trying to fit into a successful project.

And I would leave with this one thought, which is the big question I always like to ask people when we’re kicking off a project . . . and you can think about when going into this kind of session is: six months after your project is done and the new site is launched, what will you consider success to be? Typically we find people who are focused on one or two aspects on the project, and they may not be the right one. Sometimes people are fixated on budget, sometimes people are fixated on hitting a deadline. And that’s generally not enough because the things that are driving those budgets and deadlines generally have business goals attached to them. So you have to know, well, really we’re driving to have this project done by the end of November so that we can hit the big conference that we’re throwing, and then we’re hoping to increase our membership 20% in the three months after that conference.

That’s the kind of thing that you need to be able to come into a web project being able to articulate. Because that’s what’s going to drive the design and the development of the project. So understanding when you’re hiring a firm to do an end-to-end project like that you’re not just hiring, as we say in my house, you’re not just hiring us to lift the couch and put it where you want it. You’re hiring us to do the interior decoration, the interior design as well. And to do that we need to know what kind of living space do you want? What kind of tasks are you trying to accomplish? What kind of business goals are you trying to accomplish?

Like I said, that’s a whole lot to swallow! But I think we can actually do it. It’s a 45 minute session, and it’s free to attend. Go ahead and sign up, and we’ll be happy to see you on the 27th. {NOTE: moved to the 28th]

AM: But remember, it’s been moved to Thursday the 28th!

That’s the end of this week’s Secret Sauce. If you’re interested in attending Ken’s webinar on Thursday the 28th, please go online to Hope to see you there. Have a great day!